The ACC/Big Ten Challenge continues on Tuesday as the Duke Blue Devils head to hostile territory for the first time all season as they take on the Michigan State Spartans.
Both schools entered the season among the favorites to win the National Championship but MSU has already picked up a pair of out of conference losses while Duke is just a week removed from a shocking defeat to Stephen F. Austin. Neither side has managed to cover even once over their last three games and will look to get back on track with a big victory.
We break down the odds with our best bets and predictions for this matchup between two perennial powers in college basketball.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS AT MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (-6, 147.5)
Part of the reason MSU has struggled so far this year is because they've been starting slow. They lost the race to 10 points against Kentucky, Seton Hall, UCLA and Virginia Tech. Duke has lost the race to 10 just once this season, against Georgetown.
Take the Blue Devils to hit double digits first.
PICK: First to ten points Duke
FIRST HALF BET
As good as reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston is, Duke has an excellent point guard of their own in sophomore Tre Jones who is averaging 15.1 points, 6.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. And the Spartans other starting guard, highly regarded freshman Rocket Watts, has been less than impressive scoring just 6.9 ppg on 29 percent shooting in 22.1 mpg.
The Spartans second-best player is big man Xavier Tillman (12.3 ppg, 10 rpg) but Duke has an even bigger and better center in Vernon Carey Jr. The son of former NFL offensive lineman Vernon Carey, is almost as big as his dad at 6-10 and 270 pounds and has averaged 18.4 ppg and 9.5 rpg. He has logged at least 17 points and 10 rebounds in each of his last six games.
The Duke starting lineup is just as talented as MSU and should be able to cover the 1H spread.
PICK: First half Duke +3
Which MSU averages points per game that number is extremely inflated due to big numbers against terrible defenses. They scored 100, 94 and 93 points respectively against Binghampton, Charleston Southern and Georgia all of whom rank outside the Top-300 scoring defenses in the country. Against their four other opponents they averaged more modest 69.8 ppg and scored no more than 76 points against any of them.
Bet MSU's team total Under.
PICK: Michigan State team total Under 77
FULL GAME TOTAL
Winston will be the only Cassius playing in this game. Duke freshman Cassius Stanley will be out due to a hamstring injury. Stanley was third on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and second in rebounding (4.8 rpg) while shooting 50 percent from the floor. His absence will certainly hurt a Duke team still looking to find an offensive identity.
We're leaning towards the Under on MSU's team total but Duke could fail to live up to scoring expectations as well. While Duke plays at one of the faster paces in the country, Michigan State likes to play at a slower tempo. The Spartans also hold opponents to just 37.5 percent shooting.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and MSU bench boss Tom Izzo are two of the best in the business and are known for emphasizing defense. Expect them to be extremely well-prepared for this matchup and ramp up the defensive intensity. Take the Under.
PICK: Under 147.5
FULL GAME SIDE
Despite the injury to Stanley Duke has plenty of options to replace him in the starting lineup; a strong shooter in Alex O'Connell, a tough defender in Jordan Goldwire and an extremely talented if inexperienced sophomore in Joey Baker. Duke certainly has the depth to hang with Michigan State.
One of the Spartans biggest strengths this season has been their size and their domination on the glass, ranking 14th in the country in rebounding rate. But Duke has terrific size down low themselves and ranks ninth in rebounding rate.
With similar talent levels on both teams, coaching will play a big role in this one. While Izzo is a legend, he's just 1-9 against Krzyzewski since 2010 including 2-5 ATS in the last seven meetings head-to-head.
After the upset loss to Stephen F. Austin, Krzyzewski said "we know we’re not a top five team. We may not be a top 25 team." But don't take that quote for anything more than a motivational statement to ease pressure off his young team. This team was talented enough to defeat Kanas in the opener and with so many freshman they're bound to improve as the season goes on. Six points is too much to spot Coach K and Duke.
PICK: Duke +6